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Return of the Vampire: Why Classroom Training Won't Die

Remember the dawn of e-Learning and the end of classroom training as we knew it? Some of you kiddos were still in grade school.  Many of us were just hearing rumors of something called the Internet, and how it would bring swift and significant changes to the training and learning industry. In the mid-1990s, the death of classroom training was announced by corporate learning theorists. A few years later, the theorists introduced us to "blended learning", a middle of the road construct whose necessity was determined by the apparent unwillingness of classroom training to "go gently into that good night".  Today the learning industry is abuzz with social learning, mobile learning, micro-learning, story-based learning, and game-based learning, all of which are enabled by the latest technology trends, including social collaboration and big data.  This is all very exciting, very compelling stuff.

Why, then, won't classroom training die?

There are examples of companies taking bold steps into 21st century learning, yet the innovators remain the exception to the rule. Most of the training we deliver around new technology is still based on the old model, driven by an inflexible calendar of training events, rather than an agile learning process designed for adaptation and change. Thus, twenty years after the invention of e-Learning, we continue to build impossible class schedules, print five-inch course binders, and struggle to find (and train) available trainers.

Truth be told, no one really likes traditional classroom training, especially when it's used to teach "end users" (an inhuman name!) how to "point and click" through hundreds of new system screens. No one enjoys a presentation that indoctrinates them into How You Must Do Things Now (with a cursory nod to "What's in it for me?"). Like a root canal, these are accepted as necessary evils, but at least a root canal comes with a sedative! In theory (ah, theory!), no one should endure such an assault upon their minds - to say nothing of their bodies, as managers and training schedulers continue to refer to learners as "butts in chairs".

Our long and unhappy affair with classroom training is traced to 20th century industrial management theory and its obsession with predictability and control.  This powerful paradigm has lingered well into the present century, despite the emergence of progressive business ideas.  People do what their bosses ask them, and if they're asked to produce a predictable set of numbers that tells the Program Steering Committee how many butts are sitting in chairs for how many hours of training, that's what they'll do.

Classroom training is like an ancient vampire that keeps rising from the grave and is very hard to kill. Its power over us speaks to deeper issues of change.  If we cannot think past the old tricks of this creature of night, how can we realize the future promise that stirs in every transformation?  To slay the vampire, we must trick him into the light of day, where his powers fade.  If we want to break the curse (or simply the bad habit) of classroom training by default, we need to spark the conversations that are enabled by a different kind of project and a different kind of thinking. The discipline of Design Thinking might offer just the tools the vampire slayer needs.

Design Thinking challenges our tendency to define problems based on predetermined solutions, in which we follow a standard roadmap to a known destination.  Design Thinking dares us to put away the roadmap.  Seal it in the vampire's crypt.  Lock it tight.  We're going on a road trip, destination unknown. Design Thinking isn't interested in the future we can predict and control. It is interested in the future we cannot see coming, which we cannot entirely master, and it invites us to open ourselves to that unpredictable, uncontrollable future.

With its emphasis on the power of ambiguity and uncertainty as essential conditions of creativity, Design Thinking has profound implications for how we approach training. Sanjay Rajagopalan, VP and Head of Design and Research at Infosys, describes how our need for predictability and control has diminished our vitality as learners:

'We are born learners and explorers, but sometime during our formative years, many of us lose that ability to explore, experiment, and take calculated risks that increase our learning velocity.'

Can you imagine anything that drains our "learning velocity" more quickly than screen-driven classroom training, whose only trace on the management dashboard is a calculation of training hours? Behold the teeth marks on the necks of classroom training participants: we have seen the vampire, and he is us.

We owe it to our clients and our learners to twist free of our dependence on classroom training, so we might fully embrace the (im)possibility of change itself. Many business managers fear to explore social learning networks, persona-based video stories, and interactive game dynamics. Such methods are too unpredictable, too resistant to the structures of command and control.  Yet these same managers are willing to invest millions of dollars on the disruptive introduction of new technologies?

It's time to get serious about slaying the vampire. Van Helsing is coming to your next ERP gig with a new and impressive arsenal.  Forget the stakes and silver daggers.  Get ready for 21st century learning.

To learn more, check out the following blog posts:

Persona-based Learning -

Enterprise Gamification  -



Excellent post David. Loved reading it.

Thank you for sharing such great information !

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